Thurgood Marshall Nominated: First Black Supreme Court Justice
On June 13, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced his historic nomination of Thurgood Marshall, whose great-grandfather had been a slave, to be the first African American Supreme Court justice in the nation’s history. As expected there was opposition to this bold move, especially from such conservative Southern politicians as Senator Strom Thurmond, R-S.C. However, Marshall’s impressive qualifications were too strong to be denied, and on August 30 the Senate confirmed him as an associate justice of the Supreme Court by a vote of 69-11. Marshall went on to serve the Court for 24 distinguished years.
His qualifications included serving as counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for a quarter-century, 23 of those years as chief legal officer. During that time his reputation as a keen legal mind was cemented by winning the monumental Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954, the Supreme Court case that ruled school segregation was unconstitutional. Marshall argued more cases before the Supreme Court than any other lawyer in history.
In 1961 President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall as a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. After serving on that bench for four years, Marshall was appointed the U.S. solicitor general by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965—the 32nd U.S. solicitor general, and the first African American to hold that position. This was the post he occupied when President Johnson nominated him to the Supreme Court.
During his tenure on the bench of the Supreme Court, Marshall earned a reputation as a tireless supporter of minority rights, civil liberties, and protection of the downtrodden in American society. He relied heavily on constitutional protections of individual rights, supported abortion, and opposed the death penalty.
When he retired due to failing health in 1991, Marshall was succeeded by Justice Clarence Thomas, the nation’s second African American Supreme Court justice. Marshall died at the age of 84 on Jan. 24, 1993.
The following four newspaper articles are about Marshall’s nomination to the Supreme Court. The first is a news report of President Johnson’s announcement, and the second is a news report of some congressional reaction to the nomination. The final two articles are editorials on Marshall’s qualifications.
This article was published by the Seattle Times (Seattle, Washington) on the front page of its June 13, 1967, issue:
First Negro Named to Supreme Court
Thurgood Marshall Appointed
Washington—(UPI)—President Johnson today named Thurgood Marshall to be the first Negro justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Mr. Johnson personally announced the selection to newsmen at the White House. Marshall stood beside him.
Marshall will succeed Justice Tom C. Clark on the court.
Justice Clark announced his retirement after his son, Ramsey Clark, was named attorney general.
The elder Clark ended his active service on the high tribunal after the court adjourned its term yesterday.
Marshall has been a trailblazer among Negroes throughout his career. His appointment as solicitor general in August 1965 was unprecedented for a member of his race.
Prior to that, the late President John F. Kennedy had appointed Marshall in 1962 as a judge of the United States Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia.
The new justice is the great-grandson of a slave who was brought to the United States from The Congo. His father was a steward at a fashionable Chesapeake Bay country club.
Before taking the government posts, Marshall won a widespread legal reputation in battling civil rights causes in the courts.
In 1935, Marshall compelled the admission of a Negro law student at the University of Maryland—a school where he himself had been denied entry.
In 1936, Marshall joined the legal staff of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and two years later became head of its legal operations.
Marshall’s biggest triumph came in 1954 when he won the historic United States Supreme Court case declaring school segregation unconstitutional.
Attorney General Ramsey Clark said Marshall’s elevation to the Supreme Court would add “a wealth of legal experience rarely equaled in the history of the court.”
The new justice was born in Baltimore July 2, 1908, and graduated cum laude from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania but only after having been expelled in his sophomore year for hazing freshmen.
Marshall then entered Howard University Law School in Washington. He recalls: “I got the horsin’ around out of my system. I heard lawbooks were to dig in. So I dug, way deep.”
The 58-year-old nominee is a six-footer who weighs around 210 pounds. His wife is the former Cecilia Suyat. They have two sons.
This article was published by the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) on the front page of its June 14, 1967, issue:
Thurmond Opposes Choice;
Stephens Is ‘Not Surprised’
Washington (AP)—Immediate reaction to President Johnson’s nomination of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court was mixed Tuesday among senators who will be called on to confirm the nomination.
Sen. Sam J. Ervin Jr., D-N.C., who has led opposition to civil rights legislation in the past, said he was reserving judgment until he studies the record Marshall made as a federal official and as chief legal officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., saying he will vote against Marshall’s nomination, commented “his past activities make it clear that he adheres to the most liberal possible interpretation of the Constitution. His philosophy of the role of the government in the affairs of the lives of the citizens of the United States is altogether at odds with my own.”
Rep. Robert Stephens, D-Ga., said he was not surprised at the nomination and that he had felt this was in the making when Marshall was named solicitor general. He said that if the president was looking for a Negro for the high court that he made a good choice and that Marshall has a reputation of being a good lawyer.
Senate Republican Leader Everett M. Dirksen of Illinois predicted Marshall’s appointment will be confirmed without undue delay.
Dirksen said “he is a good lawyer and the fact of his color should make no difference. The appointment should ameliorate racial feeling because it demonstrates that Negroes can reach the top of the heap.”
Rep. Speedy O. Long, D.-La.: “It is about what I expected from this crowd.”
Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr., R-Tenn.: Marshall “is a man of eminent qualifications and has the perspective and judgment to bring stature to this impartial tribunal.”
Rep. John J. Flynt, D-Ga., said it was “a bad appointment.”
This editorial was published by the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) on June 14, 1967:
Good Man for Supreme Court
Had the Negro chosen by President Johnson to be the first of his race to sit on the Supreme Court been any other than Thurgood Marshall the charge might have been made that the choice was politically motivated.
In the case of Marshall such a charge cannot be sustained.
Marshall is a man of the broadest legal experience, much of it gained in arguing cases before the court to which he has now been appointed.
The most important of the 52 cases in which he has appeared there was the school desegregation decision of 1954. At the time, he was chief legal officer for the NAACP.
In national legal circles Marshall enjoys impressive stature. In addition to his 23-year career with the NAACP he served three years of what was to have been a lifetime appointment as a judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals handling cases from New York, Connecticut and Vermont.
At the urging of President Johnson he resigned to become solicitor general.
He argued cases before federal courts at every level after graduating first in his class at Howard University Law School in Washington in 1933.
Marshall will succeed retiring Justice Tom C. Clark, who decided to step down when his son Ramsey became attorney general.
Marshall happens to be a Negro. His knowledge of the law and of court procedures is no accident. He is qualified by experience and training to be a credit to the high court and to enhance the splendid reputation he already enjoys as one of the nation’s finest legal minds.
This editorial was published by the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) on June 16, 1967:
A Deserved Recognition
The contrast between responsible and irresponsible leadership was never more evident than in the difference between Thurgood Marshall, nominated Tuesday by President Johnson as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, and the inciters to lawlessness who would create a “long, hot summer.”
The “non-violent” agitators on race issues who somehow manage, despite all their “peace” mouthings, to leave a bloody trail of riots in their wake, are busying themselves at this minute, with the results which we see in Boston, Cincinnati, Tampa, Dayton, Montgomery and elsewhere. Their accomplishment is not progress for the Negro race, and is not creation of that climate of good will and harmony which will lead to a better life. It is, instead, resentment, hate, strife, arson, mayhem, murder and a setback in racial progress which can undo the work of decades.
Mr. Marshall, on the other hand, has proved beyond question that constructive and effective progress can be made by a Negro when he works within the American democratic heritage. He has blazed a bright trail of hope for boys and girls of all minority races, demonstrating amply that by taking advantage of the educational opportunities of this country, and by working constructively, a member of such a group can advance to one of the most exalted official positions in our national government.
Although not all citizens will agree with the remedies he has sought for social problems, none can deny that his efforts on behalf of minority groups have, beyond question, utilized the sound and legal processes of the law and the courts. While others shouted “burn,” his approach has been “concern,” “learn,” and “earn.”
This approach has necessitated the degree of ability which should be considered essential to any individual advancement—ability which rises above prejudice and special consideration, either pro or con. The degree of this qualification on the part of Mr. Marshall may be seen in the statement Tuesday by attorney Roy V. Harris of Augusta, that the Supreme Court nominee is “a high-type person” who has “a lot of ability.” This appraisal, from one who has been extremely conservative in race relations, carries weight which cannot be discounted.
As for the experience appropriate to the Supreme Court post, it may be pointed out that Mr. Marshall has been closely involved in the workings of the federal courts through his 23 years as chief legal officer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a responsibility which has required much litigation in the Supreme Court; through his service on the bench of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to which he was appointed in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy; and by his recent service as U.S. solicitor general, a job to which he was appointed in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson. We do not presume to gauge the weight of this background, but certainly some Supreme Court judges have been appointed with far less relevant experience.
We trust that in the matter of confirmation of the appointment, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate itself will look closely into qualifications, and make a decision based on qualifications alone.
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